Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Crossing Cultures

People connect with other people, in groups of different sizes, each with its own particular strengths, and weaknesses.

There is public connecting to others. We do this, typically, as part of a large group sharing a particular interest-based experience: going to a concert, or watching a sporting event. We experience being part of something bigger than ourselves. Though most of those present are not principally involved – not performing in the band or orchestra, not playing in the team – they are, nonetheless, an integral part of what is going on. Typically, we stand, or sit, side-by-side; and do not expect to have a conversation with those around us. And we don’t do this weekly: even if you are a season-ticket holder for a team or concert hall, and you attend every event (which you probably don’t), it takes up certain times of the year.

Christians connect publically, in worship services where most of those present are not performing, but are, nonetheless, an integral part of what is going on. But we ‘aim for’ weekly attendance (they weren’t here: do you think they are ill?); and we (good Anglicans, at least) throw in an awkward Sharing the Peace moment.

There is social connecting to others. We do this, typically, in recreational ‘third places’ – co-workers in the bar for Happy Hour; children in the park after school. Here, movement and interaction are fluid, as we encounter people and make first-impression decisions on whether we want to get to know them better, or not. It is a smaller crowd than our public belongings, and involves a certain degree of conversation.

Churches tend not to connect socially so much. Where they do, they typically do so over fairly rigidly brokered terms, such as the Summer Fair – they don’t tend to be fluid – and churches tend to be so focused on their own programmes that they don’t get involved in the social connections going on in the neighbourhood around them...

There is personal belonging to others. We do this, typically, with friends, people we have some degree of shared – and growing – history with. They could be people we went to university with; they could be neighbours. We tend to get together as and when we can. In a highly mobile society, we might now live a long way apart and not see each other face-to-face particularly often. Getting together is precious; we might go away on holiday together; we probably keep in touch through social media. When we do get together, it is relaxed: there is no set agenda. Some of us might go off and do one thing, while others do something else; or, some of us might end up in the kitchen, while others end up in the garden. We probably don’t meet up in one another’s homes as much as in the park or at the beach. We talk about...anything and everything: what is going on in the news, what we are up to...

Churches are big on personal connecting. We typically do that in small groups that meet - a weekly diary appointment, a scheduled business meetingin the home of a regular host, and sit in a room doing a Bible study.

There is intimate belonging to others. That is, friendships where we can – and do – share our secret hopes and fears, the things we need someone to know but wouldn’t want most people to know. This might be a sexual partner, or a parent, or sibling, or a longstanding friend or very small and tight circle of friends. Typically these friendships have grown over a length of time; they have not been engineered by anyone not in the group.

Churches are not as big on intimate connecting as they are on personal and public connecting. Some fear the very idea. Some put people in such positions, and hope it will work out.

What is interesting is this. People connect with other people publically, socially, personally, and intimately. This goes on around us, and may go on within our church. But the form such connections take in Christian circles is typically very different from the form they take in the culture around us. For ‘very different,’ read ‘totally alien.’

I watched an insightful talk on the Verge Network website recently, in which Todd Engstrom asked, If a missionary is someone who leaves their familiar culture in order to take the gospel to people who don’t know Jesus – people who have no hope of salvation, who aren’t empowered and sent by the Holy Spirit – then why, in seeking to bring those people into our cultural forms, are we expecting them to do the work of being a missionary, not us?

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